Sunakake-babaa (The Sand-throwing Hag) (砂かけ婆)

"Sunakake-babaa" is a specter said to inhabit Nara Prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture. It is said that she throws down sand at people walking by shrines or in desolate woods.


It is said that in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, Sunakake-babaa appeared on a pine tree and was heard throwing sand, but actually no sand fell on anybody there. It is also said that sand is thrown down at those walking under the gate of Inari-jinja Shrine in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, and the mysterious event of sand-throwing is said to have occurred by Shoge River which runs through the city.

Since no one has seen Sunakake-babaa and there is no Emaki (picture scroll) or other records describing her, it is not known what she looks like. She is said to conceal herself from people in disgust of her own ugliness. Although in many modern pictures of specters she is conveniently depicted as an old woman as her name suggests, some believe that it is small animals such as Japanese minks or raccoon dogs that throw sand while others believe it to be the work of a specter of an old woman. In fact, more stories suggest that it is small animals. Sunakake-babaa in the above mentioned cities of Nishinomiya and Amagasaki is referred to as an old woman by name but is actually explained to be Japanese raccoons. In Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture and Niigata, Aichi and Fukuoka Prefectures, it is said that raccoon dogs called Sunamaki-danuki (sand-throwing raccoon dog) similarly throw sand at people. According to one story, an old Sunamaki-danuki living in Myosho-ji Temple in Sadoga-shima Island, Niigata Prefecture, was so deeply religious that it smoothed out rough roads and purified them by spreading sand on them when Imperial Princess Tadako visited there to see her father, Emperor Juntoku who had been exiled to Sadoga-shima Island, and people there, seeing the sand-throwing, learned that the imperial princess visited her father that day. At Kokuwajima aza Maegumi, Muya-cho, Itano County, Tokushima Prefecture, such a raccoon dog is called Sunafurashi (sand throwing ghost) and believed to throw sand at people to deprive them of the sense of direction, causing them to lose their way and fall into the water. In Chiba Prefecture, it was reported that an animal as small as a cat climbed onto a tree by the Tone River and sprinkled sand on travelers walking under the tree. At Okinazaka slope in Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture, it is said that Sunamaki-itachi (sand-throwing mink) not only throws sand at people but also deprives them of candle flames and is considered to be the true identity of the hitorima (fire-taking demon). In Shiga Prefecture, there is an example in which it is believed that not a small animal but a specter of an old woman called Sunahori-babaa (another name for sand-throwing hag) lived at a corner of a bamboo grove and threw sand at people passing by. There is a theory that the word "babaa" included in the name does not mean an old woman but is derived from a slang word "baba" meaning slops.

Also in Yokaichi, Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture, it is said that someone threw sand at people from a river and that those hit by the sand lost use of their legs or became ill.

Toshitaro YAMAGUCHI, a scholar of specters, referring to a ritual of amagoi (praying for rain) called Sunakake festival held at Hirose-jinja Shrine where sand is used as a symbol of rain or regional festivals where people throw sand at each other while calling out "sunakake-babaa," suggests that such rituals and events have led to the survival of legends about Sunakake-babaa. One theory behind this strange phenomenon of sand-throwing is birds flying in the sky and dropping sand that had been stuck on their bodies.

Sunakake-babaa is one of specters described in "Yokai Dangi" (Lecture about Specters) written by folklorist Kunio YANAGIDA and the story in the book is extracted from "Yamato Sekitan" (Old Stories of Japan) written by his friend, Shiro SAWADA, M.D. SAWADA's book says that there is a ghost called Sunakake-baba who surprises people by throwing sand at them while walking by desolate woods or shrines, but that no one has seen her.

Sunakake-babaa became instantly famous nationwide by a comic book titled "Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro" written by Shigeru MIZUKI, in which Sunakake-babaa is a specter who fights against enemies for justice together with the main character, Kitaro. In MIZUKI's pictures of specters including the above-mentioned comic, Sunakake-babaa is depicted as an old woman wearing traditional Japanese clothing as suggested by the name, but according to Natsuhiko KYOGOKU, a scholar of specters, the appearance is based on a mask used in a local performing art of Sadoga-shima Island called ondeko.

[Original Japanese]